The New Japan Cup has kicked off this weekend and is off to a hot start. The beauty of the New Japan Cup is that the winner gets a title shot for any of the championships of his choice. Looking at the field of competitors each has their own story and argument for different title opportunities. This leads to a number of stories that could be told over the next few months leading to New Japan’s major shows.
Much like the G1-Climax, the undercard of the New Japan Cup is built around the tournament entrants. Often filled with multiple tag matches pitting the competitors against one another. But as fun as the tag matches can be, the real reason we’re here is for the tourney!
Michael Elgin V. Tomohiro Ishii
This match was the epitome of strong style. It felt like both men had a handshake agreement to just go out there and beat the living hell out of each other. Elgin and Ishii went strike for strike with neither man moving an inch. At points, it felt like either man could walk away with the victory. At one point Elgin hit a spot off of the top rope and it looked like Ishii landed directly on his neck. It was one of those spots where you begin to pray the wrestler is ok. After a hard-fought battle, Elgin walked away with the victory, I could see him going after the IWGP Intercontinental Championship if he were to win.
Yujiro Takahashi V. Juice Robinson
This was one of those matches where the fans knew who would be moving on. Juice Robinson has been a favorite of Gedo’s for some time now. No, he isn’t strapped with a rocket and sent to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but he is in a favorable position. Yujiro, on the other hand, is the jobber of the BulletClub. He has been a member since the early days but he carries little to no weight in New Japan. But what this match did was catch the imagination. We all knew Juice would get the “W,” but both wrestlers made it competitive. Yujiro had a lot of steam early on but it would be Juice Robinson that would get his hand raised. Much like Elgin, I feel his path will be to the IC title.
Hiroshi Tanahashi V. Taichi
This was one of my most anticipated matches of the first round. Tanahashi is on the Mount Rushmore of New Japan, he is a true legend. New Japan has also had a recent resurgence with their love of Taichi as well. Tanahashi is known for losing early in the New Japan Cup to the wrestlers that New Japan is trying to give some momentum. On night one of the tournament Tana would run into a Suzuki Gun buzzsaw and get a bit of a knock. Going into his tournament match it was already felt he was coming back too soon, and now the attack by Suzuki Gun. In a fantastic back and forth where it felt like either man could move on, it would be the experience of Tanahashi that would prove the victor. I may sound like a broken record but Tanahashi has unfinished business with Intercontinental Champion, Minoru Suzuki.
Bad Luck Fale V. Lance Archer
To be honest, there isn’t much to analyze here. Fale will forever get rewarded for his loyalty to New Japan. Whether it be the New Japan Cup or G1, he will get some good wins. This opening round match was no different. Not much of a match but a couple of big men doing what they do best. Fale got himself a victory and if I had to guess, he may shot for the NEVER Championship.
Yoshi-Hashi V. Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi is not human. This man very well may be the best wrestler on the planet today. I wasn’t sure how this match would play out as Yoshi-Hashi isn’t known for his in-ring work as much as Ibushi. But both men really brought out something in one another that elevated the quality of the match. The big spot of the match was when Ibushi did a moonsault on the outside to Hashi. Looking at the bracket it was pretty clear to guess that Ibushi would be moving on. If I had to make a prediction, I think Ibushi will target Okada and the IWGP Championship.
Tetsuya Naito V. Zack Sabre Jr.
This match was the highlight of the first round. ZSJ has been on a hell of a run lately and Naito is coming off of his failed attempt at the IWGP Championship. The match was non stop form bell to bell. Sabre brought his entire arsenal of submissions to the dance and he put Naito through the ringer. Zack Sabre Jr. very well may be the best submission wrestler in the game today. Naito is still a top guy and major name but feels like he may be treading water until his program with Jericho picks back up. Sabre is my pick to win the entire tournament and go on to face Jay White for the US Championship. If Sabre doesn’t win I could also see this match being turned into a program heading through the Spring.
Toru Yano V. Davey Boy Smith Jr.
If you know anything about Yano, you know he is the New Japan version of Santino Marella. He is the comedy guy that will get random wins here and there but not actually go anywhere. This match was filled with the usual Yano shenanigans, removal of the turnbuckle pad, low blow, ref redirection. Not much else t really go over as it was the textbook Yano match. Yano won’t be winning so there’s no sense to try and break down who he’d cash in his title shot against.
Chuck Taylor V. Sanada
Chuckie T is an absolute treasure to the world of professional wrestling. His brand of comedy wrestling is different than that of Yano as he can also be serious (see Chuck v. Trent at PWG). Sanada is another guy that the NJPW booking crew has some big plans for. He just had a wonderful match with Okada and is being positioned as the next guy in LIJ to ascend to the upper ranks. The match had its moments where there may be a surprise Taylor win, but it felt like it was a no doubt for Sanada. Especially with Yano winning earlier in the night, it was even more evident Chuck wouldn’t be winning. If Sanada gets to raise the trophy I feel he would be going after Okada once again.
Round 2 Matches:
Michael Elgin V. Juice Robinson
Hiroshi Tanahashi V. Bad Luck Fale
Kota Ibushi V. Zack Sabre Jr.
Toru Yano V. Sanada
Round 2 kicks off on Wednesday morning on New Japan World. The second round looks to be a glimpse into who New Japan feels will be “their guys” in the future. Hot matches like Ibushi v. Sabre and Elgin v. Robinson could lead to career-making tournaments. Stay tuned to Wrestlaholic on twitter and keep an eye out for my Round 2 coverage as it concludes on Thursday!